The term Factory-unlocked is a misnomer; going by the definition, such phones should be called ‘never-locked iPhone’ since these units are actually never locked, either by Apple or at the factory. In reality, none of the iPhones are ever locked at factory level, so there’s no question of unlocking. It actually means that their serial or model numbers are not saved in a list containing only those devices that are actually locked on to one of the carriers. This list is stores at servers of Apple and these devices are called as carrier locked iPhones.

How are they Activated?

Both carrier-unlocked and factory-unlocked devices still get activated only after the activation process is completed through iTunes, connected to the servers of Apple. This activation process is required to be carried out before it is used for the first time and it is this activation process that defines whether a certain unit is factory or carrier locked.

If the device belongs to the white list or clean list, then it automatically activates the SIM that is inserted in it during activation. Now, if the device is carrier locked then it gets activated only after a right SIM is placed in the slot during activation. No kind of unlocking is carried out at factory level at all.

Are there any differences in terms of features?

In terms of features, there is absolutely no difference whatsoever in between carrier locked and unlocked units. In case of network carriers that provide unlocking, for example in Australia where it is available, the iPhone units come carrier-locked initially, which means the serial and model number of the device is still part of the list of Carrier-Locked devices and is stored at the servers owned by Apple.

Now, in this case, if a certain customer requests to get his or her phone unlocked, which is usually done for a nominal fee, all that the network provider needs to do, is to raise a request to Apple to get the serial number and model cumber of the customer’s iPhone removed from the list. Once this is done, the iPhone gets unlocked. From this point of time, irrespective of the number of times his iPhone gets updated, it will continue to be activated regardless of whether you insert a SIM or not.

Check Before You Buy

If you have doubts about whether the iPhone unit you are about to purchase is locked or unlocked, have a word with the seller and ask him restore the device’s firmware to the OFW. After this, you can test the device by inserting your SIM in it. If the device gets activated after inserting SIM then it means the unit belongs to the category of never locked iPhones.

Before any carrier endorses giving officially-unlocked iPhone, it is already locked as per that particular carrier. This is why the carriers can offer the unlocked versions even before they are unsealed; if this was not the case the carriers wouldn’t have been in a position to offer these kinds of official unlocking at all; not to mention carrier unlocking done at factory level would lead to a lot of unnecessary expenses.

The newer phones go through this cumbersome routine and at times confusing process of locking and unlocking as they are sold world wide through a big list of carriers. Things were far simpler with the 2G iPhones as they were sold only in U.S. and all of them came carrier-locked to a single carrier, AT&T.

Author Bio – Eric an iPhone lover all the way. He loves to play around and unlock the latest firm-updates, and test the latest apps on his iPhone 4S. He also writes several handy DIY guides for technology enthusiasts; to find out more info, visit website.